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2020 Recession 

The Year of the Mask

By Mike Bischoff, CFP

2020 has brought us new terminology: Covid-19, social distancing, work from home, small holiday gatherings, no handshakes, in the bubble, Zoom meetings, Facetime happy hours, stimulus checks, PPP money, restaurants closed and the Minnesota stay at home rules. This year has produced many similar narratives for everyone, but in the end, each individual has felt a different impact. With the New Year, I am going to focus on the positive business and financial stories I have heard this year from family, friends and WFG clients. I believe that even a small transaction today can create a very meaningful impact for an individual’s future.  Countless people have refinanced their primary mortgage with an interest rate from 2.5% to 3.5%. Many 30-year payment structures are now down to 20 or 15 years. Lowering payments and having shorter terms can both free up excess cash flow.  Many have sold homes at historically high prices and families have moved, down-sized or as I like to call it, “right sized” to put themselves in a better financial position for the future.  Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW) & S&P 500 have hit record levels this year after being down over 35% in April. Several Minnesota based companies have hit all-time price highs including Target, UnitedHealthcare, Best Buy, Ecolab and General Mills.  Household debt services have declined to historically low levels. This ratio has been cut almost in half since the 2008 recession. This means individual’s cash reserves are at record numbers and the average American’s household net worth almost doubled in 10 years.  Some baby boomers have crossed the finish line into retirement and many others are one step closer to this goal. They have been helped by many years of systematic retirement saving plans, pension buyouts, early retirement packages, family inheritances and above average investment account returns over the past two years making retirement a reality for many.  Many of the analysts we track started to talk about the beginning of the next economic cycle back in early-summer. The DOW ended the year over the 30,000 mark. I remember Jerry Webb, the founder of WFG, talking about the DOW at 25,000 many years ago. Think about where it will be in another 10 years! 2020 has once again taught long-term investors to stay invested and be patient as markets will hit new all-time highs every few years. This has been a different type of recession with the demand for both housing and cabin purchases going crazy, and home construction projects creating overflow parking lots at Home Depot and Menards. Appliances and other products being on back order for months, and a shortage of inventory for leisure items, such as boats, bicycles and many other toys. All the empty shelves at the grocery stores and there being a complete euphoria over buying toilet paper. I never imagined stockpiling consumer products would become a pastime. I understand that 2020 was not personally good for everyone. If that is the case for you, I am truly sorry and I wish you good fortune in 2021! My last note is that vaccinations are underway in 2021 and, with an over 90% success rate, this is very exciting. Hope is on the rise for many older Americans who have spent most of 2020 at home and alone. Get out as soon as you are conformable: go out to dinner, spend time with friends and family, travel, and get back to living life. Happy New Year everyone!

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